There’s no telling what’s going on with Zdenek Zeman at Roma

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There’s a familiar feel to what’s happening at AS Roma right now, and you don’t have to be an expert in all things Giallorossi to feel it. Had you no more than 12 months experience following the club you’d know that the new coach with the nice approach they brought in this year is close to going the way of the new coach with the nice approach they brought in last year.

Then it was Luis Enrique, a man Roma’s new American ownership tasked with bringing Barcelona to the Olimpico. He brought in nice soccer, had a few clashes with veterans, didn’t make Europe and moved on.

Now it’s Zdenek Zeman, the Czech whose intriguing summer return has resulted in the best attack in Italy. But because it has also led to the league’s worst defense and no league wins in over a month, Zeman’s job is under fire.

Yesterday, Roma gave up four at home to Cagliari, who came into the match with one of the worst attacks in Italy. The 4-2 loss keeps Roma in eighth, three points back of a European spot. Couple that with off-the-field conflict and Zeman’s job is under fire.

The new scrutiny actually began last week when a conflict with goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg highlighted the issue of discipline within the squad. The concern is one Zeman himself raised in the wake when discussing Stekeleneburg’s criticisms of the club’s transfer policy, specifically the loan acquisition of Uruguayan goalkeeper Mauro Goicoechea:

“I think it was an inopportune interview with many things he got wrong. He is still a Roma player and must be at the disposal of Roma. Don’t forget after the Parma game he was injured for a month,” …

“Unfortunately when there is a lack of discipline, there is a lack of team spirit. It is difficult to work at Roma, especially as journalists tend to write about incidents that occur behind closed doors. We’ve got no rules at the moment and every now and then something happens that shouldn’t.”

The comments elicited a worrying response from sporting director Walter Sabatini: 

“Zeman’s work is satisfying under certain aspects but it is clear that there are less positive things,” …

“It’s time to start asking ourselves some questions and, amongst the considerations, we’ll also think about a change of coach, even if only marginally.

Those concerns seemed to be alleviated after mid-week meetings restored Sabatini’s confidence:

“A doubt had arisen in our minds after his statements on Saturday and we wanted to resolve it,” the official said.

“The doubt was whether he wanted to continue with this team. I speak clearly, we all deepened the talks and are totally satisfied. We are ready to fight our battles together.”

Then came Friday. Roma conceded in the third minute, eventually drew even through Francesco Totti, but went on to concede the next three goals. Now the situation at Roma is being described as the clichéd soccer ‘crisis’, a head shaking description that still seems to encompass the mood around the capital. Like Enrique, Zeman appears to be a very good coach who just is not working in Roma.

Beyond Stekelenburg, the Giallorossi have a very specific squad makeup thanks to the presence of icons Totti and Daniele De Rossi. It was a dynamic with which Enrique struggled (running afoul of Totti early), and with Zeman also experiencing conflict with De Rossi, locker room management also appears to be an ongoing concern.

All of this would be a footnote if Roma was winning, but since they’re not, Sabatini needs to consider why the club is on the verge of another year without European soccer. That evaluation may lead to another coaching change, but facing a second failed attempt to being in a coach that can instill a different style of soccer, Roma’s management may be implicitly allowing their players to pick the coach. That doesn’t seem like a good way to solve a discipline problem.

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

@KingZyen
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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”